Take A Bow, Gen-Xers, You, Too, Survived A Hazardous and Deprived Childhood
You’ve probably seen those emails that make the rounds a few times a year that wax nostalgic about the things baby boomers didn’t have growing up; and how they managed to live to tell about it.
Well, I’m the father of two Gen-Xers and stepfather to two more, so I want to address their generation personally and sing their praises, and acknowledge to the world that they, too, are survivors. I haven’t seen anything written about that, and I think it’s about high time that generation gets recognized for the stalwarts they are.
For openers, Gen-Xers, you were born in a hospital delivery room, not a birth center. Your first breath was taken under bright lights with many people attending. But Dad may not have been there to witness it. In the early 70’s allowing Dads in the delivery room was just starting to be adopted by some hospitals. I was among the first wave of Dads allowed in the delivery room at our local hospital when my first son was born in 1972.
Back then you and Mom spent a few days in the hospital. When Mom was sufficiently recovered from the ordeal and you weren't jaundiced, and were feeding satisfactorily, you were released to the world. And, Gen Xers, do you know how you were transported home? Lying in Mom’s arms in the front seat of the car. Car seats weren’t around then. And guess what? Mom wasn’t seat-belted in, either. But don’t worry, she wasn’t breaking the law.
The law required auto manufacturers to equip vehicles with seat belts in 1968, but it didn’t require the vehicle occupants to use them…and no one did. It wasn’t compulsory until the 1980’s, when individual states started passing laws making seat belt use mandatory. And you survived!
In fact, you spent your infancy sitting in Mom’s arms or on her lap. And she wasn’t belted in because she had to keep reaching into the diaper bag for the things and stuff you required in order to get you to stop screaming. Oh yeah, diaper bags. See, disposable diapers were just coming on the scene when you were still loading your britches. But to many of us young, struggling families, they were an expensive luxury. We had cloth diapers and had to do a million loads of laundry a week to keep you in dry diapers.
When we unpinned your diaper (we still bear scars from being stuck by the pins) we were hoping for a nice solid poop. Those just rolled off the diapers into the toilet and we threw the diaper into the soiled diaper pail until it was time to do another load in the washing machine. But so many times you broke our hearts by putting out a soft, mushy poop that clung to the diaper like Velcro™. In those instances, we had to slosh the diaper up and down in the toilet bowl until all the poop came off. And with our bare hands, no less. E.coli? Who knew?
You cut your teeth on the handles of shopping carts. Oh, we’d give you a teething ring or a piece of zwieback (Google it) to chew on, but you preferred the handle of the shopping cart. It was probably cool and felt good on your hurting gums. Nowadays I see kids in shopping carts with what looks like a comforter draped over the handle, or at least some kind of cover so the occupant can't chew on the handle. That's a good idea, though. Why didn't we think of that?
You spent your toddler, youth and preteen years sitting, usually unbelted, in the back seat of the car. If your folks had a station wagon (think of it as a primitive SUV) you got to ride in what we called the way back. Today it’s called the cargo area.
I can remember standing on the hump in the back seat, right under the dome light. The hump was to give things like drive shafts and exhaust pipes a place to go so they wouldn’t scrape the road. The dome light was positioned in the center of the car's ceiling and wasn't recessed like it is in many of today's vehicles. If we hit a bump, I’d hit my head on the dome light and we’d all laugh about it. I considered myself a big boy when I no longer could stand on the hump without my head rubbing against the dome light.
When you got a little older, Gen-Xers, and it was time for a bicycle, you got one with training wheels until you developed your sense of balance. When the training wheels came off, we watched with a mix of pride and hilarity as you wobbled your way down the sidewalk. You only used a couple of band-aids while you were learning, then you were on your own. And you faced the world on your two-wheeler without (gasp) a helmet or knee pads. You survived that period, too.
About the time you were in middle school (Jr. High in some jurisdictions) rap music was just appearing on the scene. It was a kinder, gentler rap, though. Not like the gangsta wrap of today. I don't recall the early rap denigrating women or advocating violence against the police and others.
Star Wars was big and an exciting new technology was on the horizon: cable television. The decade of the 80’s saw it arrive here in Massachusetts. Personal computers were also just beginning to show up in households, although they didn’t really catch fire til the 90’s, when you were in college. We got an Apple IIc in the early 80’s and we thought it was amazing.
I still remember the printer…clacking away at 10-15 words a minute…and how amazing we thought it was. Word processing was a dream-come-true. So, here you were…graduating college without having had the benefit of smart phones, tablets and some of the other gadgets so popular today.
Speaking of the gadgets popular today, you’re raising your own families now, complete with car seats, disposable diapers, bike helmets and knee pads. And I see your children sitting in the shopping carts (with the covers dutifully in place) while they thumb away on some hand held device that they, as a two-year old, know how to use but I, as a grandfather, don’t.
It truly is a brave new world out there. Congratulations, Gen-Xers. Well done.
© 2015 Bob Bamberg